Rarely seen shark sighted in Ormoc Bay

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/20 December) – A large rarely seen shark was found lurking around the wreckage of a World War II era battleship in Ormoc Bay earlier this month.

Surprise greeted Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and the crew of his research vessel Petrel as the shark swam out of the dark while they were locating the warship.

Using cameras on their remotely operated submersible vehicle, the crew zoomed in to get a better look and were able to identify the species as a bluntnose sixgill shark.

Robert Kraft, director of Subsea operations and Paul Mayer, deep sea pilot and researcher both told this writer early this month that they were amazed by this rare creature.

“This is the first time in the Philippines that this rare shark was caught on cameras,” the duo said early this month abroad RV Petrel.

Kraft said they took a video of the creature last December 2 while exploring sunken warships in Ormoc Bay.

“This is remarkable footage of the bluntnose sixgill shark, a rare and deep-dwelling species of shark,” said Gonzalo Araojo, executive director of the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines. “This, to our knowledge, is the first live encounter with the species in the Philippines, with only a few records known from fisheries. It highlights the rich marine biodiversity of the country and the need to sustainably manage it.”

This writer obtained the footage of the shark last Monday. The video can be seen through RV Petrel Facebook page or can be viewed at www.paulallen.com.

Reaching up to 15 feet long, the bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus) is one of the largest sharks in the world, but uncommon in the area. Reflecting primitive characteristics from the Triassic period, the shark has more extinct relatives than alive.

While the Philippines has nearly 200 kinds of sharks and rays, local researchers say this species of shark has never been documented alive in the country’s waters until this expedition.

Sixgill sharks serve an important ecological role in many deep-sea and shelf-slope habitats. Little is known about this species of shark, as they live so close to the ocean floor and are rarely surveyed by scientists.

“We still know so little about deep sea ecosystems around the world, and sightings like this one provide exciting glimpses of these important species and habitats,” said Dr. Mike Heithaus, co-lead principal investigator for Global FinPrint and Florida International University marine scientist.

Paul Allen launched Global FinPrint in summer 2015 to bring together collaborators around the world to fill a critical information gap – tracking the diminishing number of sharks, rays and other types of marine life. Global FinPrint aims to aid in management and conservation efforts for life on coral reefs.

Early this month, Petrel discovered American destroyers USS Ward and USS Cooper in Ormoc Bay.

Prior to these finds, five Japanese warships consisting of two dreadnought battleships – Fuso and Yamashiro – and three Asashio class destroyers Yamagumo, Asagumo, and Michishio were also found by the same crew in Surigao Strait during their expedition on Nov. 22- 29.

In 2016, Allen purchased the R/V Petrel, a 250-foot research and exploration vessel. Petrel’s advanced underwater equipment and technology make it one of the few ships in the planet capable of exploring up to 6,000 meters. Following a 2017 retrofit, Petrel and its crew use state-of-the-art underwater technology for deep-sea expeditions. (Roel N. Catoto/MindaNews)